Anonymous yet personal, this Blog chronicles
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Sunday, July 13, 2008

To IT or not to IT, that is the question

This morning I electronically submitted my claim for a second week of unemployment benefits. The State requires that I apply for at least three jobs each week.

On Friday I looked at Monster and quickly found a listing for a Novell Engineer at a company conveniently located near me in Cambridge. The listing was from a large IT recruiter, and the company was not specified. I sent off my IT resume by email.

Minutes later the phone rang. It was the recruiter responding to my email. It had just come in on his blackberry, which he was reading as he sped down I95/Rt128. He was very impressed with my resume and wanted to know if I was available immediately. His client, a major biotech company needed a high-level eDirectory engineer with experience ASAP. Apparently this is a skill that has become rather obscure in the Microsoft-oriented age, and people with this knowledge are getting very difficult to find.

As I spoke with the recruiter I came to realize that his client was a large biotech company that begins with a B. "B" is a huge international company with about 1200 employees in Cambridge alone and close to a billion dollars in annual sales per year.

It so happens that I am indirectly familiar with their IT infrastructure and services based on Novell's eDirectory, since my good friend and IT mentor Lou worked there and essentially built it. It's amazing technology.

I had long technical conversations with Lou about what he had implemented at B, and it was very impressive. Lou went to the biotech before their merger - first as a Novell Consulting Services contractor, but then as their Novell guru on staff. He was at the company for many years, and to this day I still run into personnel from their IT department at conferences who worked with him. But, because of politics and what he considered a lack of clear strategic direction and support from IT department, Lou left for another senior position somewhere else.

I had inquired with Lou about his view on employment opportunities at B, since they are one of the few large Novell shops in the area. Lou strongly recommend against it, saying that the internal politics were brutal and that the demands placed upon IT staff is simply outrageous. B runs their entire Directory Services off of two clustered fault-tolerant Intel-based servers. Lou was the guy responsible for maintaining it, and if something ever happened, the company would stop dead in its' tracks (biotech is a highly regulated industry, so getting anything done can be very bureaucratic and full of red-tape). His cellphone could (and usually did) ring at any time of the day or night, and he was expected to fix what ever technical problem arose pronto. In one of my last conversations with Lou before he died earlier this year, he said "don't go to 'B' if you want to have a life."

I've been in that role before as a Vice President of Information Systems at Scudder. It's not a fun existence. People who live in that high-stress environment die from heart attacks before their time - like Lou who passed away just a week or two after retiring.

I'm not ruling out anything. I clearly need a job. But it is with serious trepidation that I put my toes back into the water of IT Operations. It's not a fun occupation when the going gets rough. Heads roll, people yell, and the cell phone never stops ringing.

There may be more sane positions in IT that I could potentially be happy in. I interviewed at Harvard for a Senior Project Manager position in their Server Operations Data Center. Unfortunately I didn't make it to the final round, but I felt confident that I could do the job, and do it well.

I may follow through with the IT recruiter who called me about the bio tech, but I'm very wary about putting myself in that kind of position again.
Been there, done that.

Look for a post about my late friend and former colleague Lou. He was a genius.


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